The Turkish multi-instrumentalist paves her own way through the nightlife scene—seeking to leverage her voice to better our world, and building new sonic ones in the process
I got ahold of Carlita last Friday afternoon, back in New York after a brief stay in Dubai. She was gearing up to play at Senza Fine—a multisensory concept party orchestrated with Teksupport, featuring live music, 360-degree projected visuals, and sets by Old City, Ahmed Spins, HVOB, and Seth Troxler. In the next few weeks, she’ll be traveling to Mexico (Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Mexico City), then Brazil, then Chile, then Paris for Fashion Week. After that, she’s back stateside, performing in Aspen from the St. Regis courtyard.
The point being: Carlita is in high demand, and she’s only getting bigger. The multi-instrumentalist DJ-slash-producer pulls a good crowd wherever she goes, from Cinecittà to Burning Man—a testament to the global range of her practice, demonstrated full-fledged over the course of any given evening. It started in Turkey, riffing on the piano at the age of three; Carlita soon took up classical cello, attending conservatory through high school, and then Berkeley in Boston for university, where she was acquainted with Latin rock, Japanese techno, Detroit house, and on and on. At Senza Fine, she remixed Beethoven’s Fifth—just one of many twists in an eclectic performance that carried on through the morning. “I was listening to so many things, and finding what I liked in every genre,” Carlita says. “Most DJs have a specific sound. But I say, Well, I don’t need to find one yet. I’m just mixing all the things I love.”
It’s a sensibility that translates to all the parties she plays: interdisciplinary gatherings, recruiting the input of innovators from across the creative spectrum—visual artists and designers and coders and club fixtures. And despite that miscellaneous approach, Carlita’s vision has always been simple: “My mission is to spread love and happiness, and to make people go somewhere else: to escape to their own worlds through music.”
This month’s earthquake, of course, stunned the artist’s home region, and the rest of the world at large. Carlita plays on with community in mind—and the knowledge that she has a hand to play in amassing global attention and resources. It’s a complicated role to occupy: one of spreading joy in times of immense tragedy. “I want to really help people as I grow,” she resolves. “Whoever is in need, and whenever I can help with my voice, which is what I’m trying to do right now with Turkey.”
To aid the cause in Turkey and Syria, visit AHBAP and AKUT. Senza Fine is also collecting donations.
“Most DJs have a specific sound. But I say, Well, I don’t need to find one yet. I’m just mixing all the things I love.”
Morgan Becker: I know you got started with classical music. Would you tell me a bit about your journey from that genre to the ones you work with in your DJing practice?
Carlita: I found myself playing piano when I was three. Music was always a very big part of our family. My mom is very into jazz and Brazilian music. My grandma sings a bit of opera, just for fun. My uncle plays piano. My dad plays electric guitar. We all started with music, and we love it so much as a family.
When I was eight, my older sister [began] playing cello. I really loved the instrument, and I told her I wanted to play it, too. I started conservatory in Turkey; I went to auditions. And at first, they wanted to assign me the violin, because I was very tiny—and I’m still very tiny [laughs]. But I said, No, I want to play cello, and they were like, Okay, you can have a try. It was really, really hard to find one that was my size—a big search for my family. We found a custom that fit me, and that’s how my journey started: eight to, say, 18, I played professionally. And then I went to college in Boston.
In Turkey, I wasn’t really listening to electronic music, because I wasn’t super exposed [to it]. There, I started listening to more house. I was always going to this club called Bijou. I started DJing there; the owner was Turkish, and he told me he could teach me.
Morgan: Are there parallels between those two genres, that maybe you didn’t expect?
Carlita: From classical music and music theory, I [could mix] a couple of tracks perfectly, from their scale. My ears were perfectly trained. When I started DJing and producing, I always knew how what was written was going to sound, because I can write scores, and I can read scores. [I’m able to] mix a lot of genres together. I always incorporate classical music, and I love when a song has a classical interpretation.
Morgan: How have you been this past week, being so far from Turkey with the tragedy that just occurred there?
Carlita: I’ve been devastated. The last six days have been very, very hard for me. In ’99, there was an earthquake in Istanbul. I was four. And I still remember how the apartment was shaking. Every day, I hear about friends of friends, friends, and family, who are not doing well. It’s been very sad. That’s why I’m trying to do my best. I donated a lot, and I’m trying to keep on donating. I’m encouraging other people to donate. It’s amazing how people are investing in helping the country, even internationally. So I’m really proud, but of course, very, very sad.
Morgan: Your taste is pretty global. Where did you come across those genres, and what are the reasons to pull from so many different cultures as a DJ?
Carlita: I got exposed to a lot of cultures in Boston. I was hanging out, for my first couple of years, with a lot of Dominican people. I was exposed to all this music they have, from Latin rock, to their own kind of reggaeton. I had some friends from Japan; they showed me simple, Japanese techno, which I thought was very inspiring. In Turkey, psychedelic rock music was very famous. I was very exposed to that.
Boston is very international. I was listening to so many things, and finding what I liked in every genre. Most DJs have a specific sound. But I say, Well, I don’t need to find one yet. I’m just mixing all the things I love.
Morgan: Do you perform in Istanbul a lot? How would you characterize the scene there?
Carlita: I think it’s one of my biggest markets. Turkey is a very educated country. They’re very modern. And the night scene is very nice. I feel like most DJs love to go to Turkey, because Turkish people are very loyal fans.
Morgan: How did you meet DJ Tennis?
Carlita: We have a friend relationship and a work relationship. He’s also my manager. I was always a very big fan of DJ Tennis and his label. A couple of times, I tried to send him promos, but I don’t think he ever saw them [laughs]. One day, I was at a party in Ibiza, and my friend was like, ‘Hey, if you really like him, I can connect you.’ A week later, this guy actually puts me in [touch with him]. We went to lunch. The day after was my birthday, and I said, ‘Hey, if you want, you can come—but it’s not going to be a party. It’s kind of a dinner, whatever.’ He was like, ‘Okay, I’ll come.’
Morgan: Who are your biggest influences, musical and otherwise?
Carlita: I love Depeche Mode a lot. I’m very into rock music. I love Yo-Yo Ma; I grew up admiring him. He’s one of the best cellists in the world.
I’m also very into architecture. I love Zaha Hadid, and I’m very fond of Bjarke Ingels. I love Anish Kapoor—not an architect, but an artist who I really like. Paulo Coelho, I love. The Alchemist was my favorite book for years.
“My mission is to spread love and happiness, and to make people go somewhere else: to escape to their own worlds through music.”
Morgan: How spontaneous is your process when you’re performing?
Carlita: Before, I was preparing a lot. But now I don’t, as much as [possible]. If a show is very important to me, I try to make playlists. But I never stick to them in the moment.
Morgan: What makes a good set?
Carlita: Good size, [good] location, a good set time. The set time changes everything.
Morgan: What’s the ideal set time?
Carlita: Sunrise, by far.
Morgan: What’s next for you, in the near future and beyond that?
Carlita: In the near future, I want to finish my album. I’m really focused. In the future, I want to work with the instruments I can play, and incorporate my work [with that of] a visual artist.
Morgan: How far along is the album?
Carlita: It’s early stages. I have all the sketches. We’re talking with a label. Amazing collaborations. I can say that I have one song with DJ Tennis, and another with a very nice singer from Sicily. I have a lot of big collaborations coming, but I don’t want to mention them unless it’s a hundred percent [laughs].
Morgan: What’s your mission as an artist?
Carlita: My mission is to spread love and happiness, and to make people go somewhere else: to escape to their own worlds through music. I want to really help people as I grow—whoever is in need, and whenever I can help with my voice, which is what I’m trying to do right now with Turkey.
Photography assistant Cristian Aguilar.